Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer in the world and makes Barcelona a better team while he’s in the side, says head coach Ronald Koeman. The Argentina international was named among the replacements for a LaLiga match for the first time since September 2019 in Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Real Betis at Camp Nou.

He had struggled to score or support from open play in six league matches this term before last weekend’s tournament, but Koeman denied that he was dropped and put his absence down to a knock from the side. Messi ended his open-play slump by powering home as a halftime substitute against Betis, having scored his fifth campaign penalty in all competitions earlier.

Koeman has reaffirmed that he has full confidence in the forward who struggled to step away from the club at the end of last season.

“Messi has shown me to be a guy who wants to win and continue to be the best, while he’s had problems with his club,” Koeman told Sport.

Barcelona has been, are, and would be a better team with Messi than without them. As I arrived, they told me that Messi was sad. We talked at his house and he explained his reasons to me. I was outspoken. I told him that the only thing is the method, its place on the field, its meaning in the team. But the issues he had with the club I couldn’t alter. From the first day, I have said the same thing. He is the best and the club is dedicated.
This summer, he’s had his issues, his problems, but he’s been really good since he got back to school.

“He has had bad luck in some games and he has not been able to deliver the regular results, but I’m sure at the end of the season he would have scored the usual goals.”

Koeman replaced Quique Setien ahead of the 2020-21 season and oversaw Barca’s joint-worst start to a LaLiga campaign after six games in the three-point-per-win period. But some of the early struggles of his side were put down to bad refereeing by the former manager of the Netherlands and he is optimistic that positive improvements are being made on the field.

He said: “We were able to change the picture of the team. We have made adjustments that have brought another air to the community. People are very active, very devoted. It has increased the strength of the training sessions and we have played strong games. We indeed lost a lot of points in the table, in games that we should have produced a better result. In others, the final result has been influenced by refereeing decisions. We know that we need things to be changed and we’re working on that. Now we’ve got a break, but now we’re set.”

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